May 3, 2012

Horse Detachment simulates smuggling illegal weapons

Story and Photos by Spc. Anthony J. Lecours
Troopers with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s Horse Detachment lead pack mules loaded with simulated weaponry as training for smuggling operations at Fort Irwin April 16. By using animals, the Horse Detachment provides realistic training in order to help prepare Soldiers for deployment.

Insurgents and criminal elements in Afghanistan have shifted to smuggling for illicit funds and supplies. With the trafficking of weapons and drugs across international borders, the need for border security is at an all-time high.

By donning disguises and using pack mules to simulate smuggling drugs and weapons, troopers from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s Horse Detachment provide training to counter the threat of smuggling for rotational Soldiers at the National Training Center.  The training takes place on the borders of the fictional countries of Donovia and Atropia.

The simulated locations replicate scenarios that the Soldiers might face while on a deployment.  New depths of realism are added to the training by incorporating live animals.

They give those Soldiers in “The Box” things to look for that would likely be faced downrange, said Sgt. Jacob Irish, a Horse Detachment trooper. Countering the smuggling of illegal items between the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders is a vital mission to security.  By conducting smuggling operations, Soldiers gain insight into the tactics used of the enemy.  Ultimately, this will prepare Soldiers to be more successful when deployed.

Spc. Alexis Azevedo, a Trooper with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s Horse Detachment, ties a simulated rocket-propelled grenade to a pack mule as practice for simulated smuggling operations at Fort Irwin, Calif., April 16. Azevedo attended training at the the Marine Animal Packers Course to help prepare her for smuggling operations at the National Training Center.

The smugglers have used native animals to climb up and down mountains on the border in places that is difficult for military personnel to patrol. In some areas, the air is too thin for helicopters and the ground is too steep and rocky for military vehicles, making it only accessible by foot or mule. These areas are considered hotbeds for insurgents and criminal elements.

You would be surprised at what these animals can do,” said Spc. Alexis D. Azevedo, a Horse Detachment trooper.  “I remember the mule was fully loaded and we were in steep box canyon. I thought there was no way we’re making it up this hill, but we did.”

Azevedo attended the Marine Animal Packing Course at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in order to better prepare for smuggling operations and handling animals. The course taught proper ways to load munitions and supplies onto horses, mules and donkeys.

“A lot of their livelihoods down there are farmers.   They herd goats, sheep, whatever,” said Azevedo. “If you’re not used to seeing goats running around town, you might be questioning it a little more.  It’s just something else to get used to.”

As the enemy studies our training, tactics and procedures, we must evolve our tactics and procedures to counter the enemy. Soldiers training at Fort Irwin will have a better understanding of the capabilities of pack animals and be able to respond tactically because of the Horse Detachment’s mission at the National Training Center.

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